On having difficult conversations

By Suhas Vijayakumar on June 13, 2017

The only weight a school-going child should bear on their shoulder should be that of the textbooks. Their only worry should be about meeting the deadlines of their homework or preparing for the upcoming test. Yet, there I was, finding myself having a conversation about child sexual abuse with a friend. I tried to comprehend what kind of childhood they had, when they explained that the weight of their books, or thoughts of the upcoming test was the least of their concerns when they left home for school.

I was not naïve to the fact that these things, as unlikely as they seem when you don’t get to hear about them in person, happen. I had seen news reports, panel shows, and even interviews. But when I started to bring it up in conversations with other friends, I was shocked to find out that four of the first five people that I spoke to had a story they were hesitant to share in words. Seeing their face change expression upon hearing the word abuse gave me a feeling that I was no longer talking to the person I had known all this while.  The moment when someone opens up about how their childhood stories do not contain memories of fights on and off the playground, you are hit with this realization that there is so much more to this person than you were led to believe in. Contrary to seeing them as a victim, you see their lives become more real to you, as now you know something more than their favorite movie or ice cream they’d die for. Yes, of course, it should be obvious that their life has more than the facts you’ve stored in your brain, but having given no amount of conscious thought to it, you assume that things must have been alright. After all, we all only get to hear what others have carefully chosen to share.

Initial days were difficult in the sense that I didn’t know what exactly I was feeling. Anger, perhaps? For it made it difficult to think, form sentences, and investigate where this anger stemmed from. Then there was disappointment. For we, as a society, had surely let these innocent kids down. In one instance it was a relative, in another it was a family friend, or a teacher. But the effect it had on those young minds was the same. They felt lonely, helpless and unsafe, even when they were surrounded by people who were supposed to have had their backs. For that, I’m sorry. All I can do now is listen.

I’m certain that anyone who has been through an ordeal of this sort would only want to make sure that it does not happen again. Not to them. Not to anyone. That’s what the next section is about. —

I strongly believe that robbing a child off of their childhood is a crime that has no excuse. But I also think that it is imperative to be able to have a conversation with non-offending pedophiles and not preemptively condemn them to life imprisonment or worse. Currently when we say pedophile, we do not differentiate between those who have abused children and those who are trying to stay away from children. Surely this must stop them from seeking help, even if they wanted to.

Isn’t it the actions that cause harm? And until not acted upon, thoughts are perhaps less of a threat, don’t you think? I might be wrong about this, as all actions at some point start as harmless thought. Will have to think about it keeping emotions aside. Meanwhile, a friend of mine pretty much summed up where this argument is going -

We do that with people with a temper, right? Give them the benefit of the doubt. Sure, it is maybe less harmful in most instances, but we don’t condemn a temperamental, explosive person before they actually attack someone physically. We give them the benefit of the doubt that they can control their short-temper and not cross the line into the physical violence.

There is something about pedophilia that makes people paranoid, that doesn’t necessarily happen with other types of abuse. Maybe because the nature of the potential offence is so unimaginably grave and multi-layered, maybe because their urges are so easily label-able, while verbal or physical abuse is sometimes maybe less palpable (verbal) or just more common, to the point where we have become more accustomed to it (physical). Maybe it’s all those things combined. But there is an undeniable chill that goes through our veins when someone mentions a pedophile as opposed to (simply) a violent person.

What can we do?

It seems that there is a community of non-offending pedophiles out there – virtuous pedophiles, as they’re called – who are gravely aware of the consequences if they act upon their sexual urges towards kids. More and more of these people have tried to come out after Todd Nickerson’s article was published towards the end of 2016.

So, I think we should work towards building a society that can have these difficult conversations. Only when pedophiles can get help, without being stigmatized, can we keep their sexual inclinations from turning into a crime. Because once that line is crossed, it is impossible to go back.

A non-exhaustive list of remaining questions -

  • Is there a reliable test, much like monitoring levels of insulin, to keep their desires under check?
  • How can we trust a pedophile (who has once committed the said crime) when they say they’ve changed?
  • Is there a way to channel anger and disappointment to do something useful?
  • What is a decent way to show support to the victims, without treating them like victims?
  • Would I like to know if my first door neighbor is a pedophile?
  • How would I act in their vicinity?
  • Would I treat them in a neighborly and friendly way?
  • How would that change if I had a child – would I feel the same as a parent living closely to a non-offending pedophile?
  • Can we, as a society, somehow keep these people away from temptations, and therefore away from children, without cutting into their freedom?

I don’t have all the answers. Child abuse should end. That’s the only thing I’m certain about.

Further reading:

If you end up at the listening end, it might help to remind yourself of these guidelines - [link]
Pedophiles about pedophilia – blogposts on Medium

Tags: life